Jack could feel his eyes glazing over as Em went on and on about the background of the French Commander coming to Pulau-Pulau tomorrow. None of it was pertinent to the mission; find out where the Commander was going, and warn the targets. That’s all they had to do. He only needed to know when and where the Commander was going to discuss his plans. Simple enough.
Right now Em was talking about how he was at the top of his class at some French school that had snails as their mascot. God help him, Em was actually going to bore him to death this time.
“Are you listening?”
“Huh?” Jack snapped to attention. “Sure Em. Commander Frou-Frou is coming to stay with Croquet, and we’ve gotta find out his target before he leaves Pulau-Pulau. Nothing we haven’t done before.”
“We haven’t done this before!” Em snapped. “Commander Fouquet is far more paranoid than the Governor's usual guests. He’ll only discuss strategy on his ship, in a soundproofed cabin.”
“Like the lab?”
“Exactly. We won’t be able to swim up to the hull and press an ear to the side.” She said, dry as a scone.
“Hey, don’t knock it, it worked last time.” Jack retorted. “So what? I’ll just break in as the Daring Dragoon and--”
“That won’t work! The ship is guarded too heavily. They’d shoot you on sight and ask questions later.”
Jack swallowed. “Uh, yeah, not good. So, what’s the plan?”
Em bit her lip. “I do have a new invention we could utilize to hide you in the cabin.”
Jack narrowed his eyes. “Uh-huh. So what is it this time? A blanket that’ll make me look like a wooden panel? A glue that’ll stick me to the ceiling? Or maybe a pocket watch that’ll freeze time so I can hide behind a curtain?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Jack.” Em huffed, offended. “Those are all silly, impractical, and impossible.”
“So what’s your big invention?”
“A matter compressor.”
Jack blinked. “Huh?”
“A matter compressor.” Em said, walking over to a complex-looking jumble of pipes and tubes about waist-high. “It compresses molecules to one-tenth their spacing.”
“Explain it to me in english, alright?” Jack rubbed a hand over his forehead. “Preferably with one-syllable words.”
“It shrinks things.” Em gave him the ‘I can’t believe I have to work with this idiot for the foreseeable future’ look. He hadn’t gotten that one in a while.
“It shrinks things.” He repeated. “So, what, we get one of those voice regurgitator things you made--”
“Whatever. We shrink one of those and hide it in the cabin?”
“No, I’m afraid one of us would have to be present to activate it.”
“Okay, so what are we shrinking and hiding in the cabin to hear this conversation?”
Em smiled nervously. “Actually Jack, I was thinking of you.”
To be continued...
Jack’s jaw dropped. “What?!”
“It’s perfectly harmless! I’ve tested it on dogs and cats and all manner of indigenous species. There’s no risk.”
“You want to shrink me?!”
“Not want to Jack, need to.” Em pressed. “We can’t hear the plans from the outside and we can’t talk our way in. There’s nowhere for a man of your current size to hide so--”
“So you want to turn me into Gulliver?!”
Em opened her mouth to retort, but stopped. “You’ve read Jonathan Swift?”
“I’m more than just a pretty face.” Jack straightened his shoulders and sniffed.
Em pondered this. “It’s not a bad comparison, really. Scale-wise it’s nearly identical.”
“You’re really selling me on this shrinking concept, Em.” Jack sat in one of the lab chairs, leg cocked over the armrest. “If it’s so safe, why don’t we shrink you?”
“You have no idea how to run the compressor.” Em placed a protective hand on the machine. “If I was shrunk there would be no way for me to return to normal size.”
“Uh-huh.” Jack snorted. “I think you just want a guinea pig for your latest twisted experiment.”
“Yes, that must be it. It couldn’t possibly be that I want to save the lives of good men fighting for freedom from Napoleon.” Em glared at him. “If there was any other way to do this, I’d have suggested it Jack. I don’t fancy the idea of you being small and helpless aboard that ship, but we must find out where Commander Fouquet is going to attack.”
Jack groaned and slumped further into the chair. She always brought up the innocent men fighting for freedom. It was a dirty ploy. “And how am I supposed to get on the ship if I’m only six inches tall?”
“I’ve arranged to tour the ship with the governor prior to their meeting: I’m too important a player in the island’s finances for them to deny me.” She smiled a little.
“Not to mention Frenchie probably hasn’t seen a pretty face in six months.” Jack replied. “So, you’ll tour, leave me on the ship, six inches high and alone, sneak into the cabin, overhear the orders, somehow get off the ship and back to you, so you can unshrink me and get a warning to the target?”
Em considered this. “That’s about the size of it.”
Jack groaned. “Don’t say size.”
Her eyes sparkled. “You’ll do it?”
“Doesn’t seem like I have a choice.” Jack muttered. “You’re sure you can unshrink me? I don’t want to spend the rest of my life the size of spoon.”
“Don’t worry Jack. The machine is foolproof.” Em assured him.
Jack groaned. Last time Em had said that that he’d ended up electrocuted. But this had to go better.
To be continued...
“Why the heck did you even make this thing?” Jack shifted uncomfortably in the large chair Em was strapping him to. “And I thought you said this wouldn’t hurt. Why are you tying me down?”
“First of all, it won’t hurt. I just don’t want you to fall out of the chair.” Em tightened the strap over his right wrist. “You won’t be so small I can’t see or hear you, but it’s safer.”
“Safety first.” Jack muttered. Em tugged the strap tighter. “Ow!”
“Oh stop fussing.” Em moved on the the other wrist. “And second, I got the idea for the matter compressor after some complaints from the captain of my ship about the availability of space in the cargo hold. It got me thinking ‘what if the cargo took up less space?’ and well, here we are.”
“Just as simple as that.” Jack rolled his eyes. “Em, if you invented something like that, why aren’t you the richest woman alive? Reducing shipping would be a gold mine alone.”
“Jack, I only export items as a cover, remember? If I became rich and famous I’d lose all credibility as a field operative.” She shook her head. “Besides, it’s potential as a tool for us is far greater than the financial gains.”
“Says you.” Jack grunted. “You could get rich enough to buy France and end this whole thing.”
“Yes, I’m sure Napoleon is willing to sell.” She retorted, tightening the final strap. “Alright. This may feel a tad strange.”
“Not my first time being strapped in.” Jack said, a bit too bright. His heart was racing. What if something went wrong? What if Em’s machine broke and he was stuck at six inches high? What if he got onboard and couldn’t find a way off--or worse, was discovered? The idea of being six inches tall in Em’s hands wasn’t exactly appealing, and she was his friend. If Commander Frou-Frou or Croquet discovered him he’d be in serious trouble.
Em put on a strange metallic apron and stepped behind the machine. “Ready?”
“Hey, wait, you said this was safe! What’s the armor for?”
Em forced a smile. “Nevermind.”
Jack shifted in the chair, as much as he could. “Seriously Em, you’re not going to leave me six inches tall and do experiments on me, right?”
“Only if you annoy me more than usual.” She reached forward and flipped a large switch.
The machine hummed to life, sparks shooting across the top, ozone sparking the air. Jack swallowed and pressed against the back of the chair. “Is it too late to back out?”
A large bolt of blue light answered his question.
To be continued...
When the blue haze cleared from his vision, Jack found himself staring at a flat metal slab. His gaze crawled upward. It was the bottom of the matter compressor. It was taller than every building on Pulau-Pulau.
At the top Em’s head peeped over, eyes wide. She was the size of the White House.
“Uh.” He squeaked, desperately wishing he wasn’t strapped into the chair. “Wow.”
“How do you feel?”
Jack winced. Em’s voice was a booming parody of it’s normal sound. “Easy bigmouth! If you pop my eardrums I can’t overhear the plan!”
A smile twitched over Em’s face. She covered her hand with her mouth, stifling a giggle.
“What? What’s so funny?” Jack wriggled, trying to squeeze out of the restraints.
“Your voice! It’s a bit...higher pitched than usual, that’s all.”
Jack groaned. “If you’re going to laugh at me the whole time--”
“No, no, of course not.” Em stepped out from behind the machine.
Jack swallowed a gasp. He came up to her ankle. She could crush him under those boots. Not good. Not good. “Em, get me out of this damn chair already!”
To his horror, Em bent down and picked up the chair with him still strapped in. His stomach zoomed into his boots as it rose skyward. Jack wasn’t afraid of heights, he’d jumped off cliffs with little more than a hope and a pair of knickers. This shouldn’t scare him.
Em raised the chair to eye level-studying him. Jack tried not to move. The last thing he needed was for the chair to unbalance and send him to the floor.
To his relief, Em set him atop the matter compressor. She picked up a small hooked tool and undid the restraints on his left arm. He set to work freeing his other limbs.
She set a small dish full of flesh-colored wax at his feet. It was roughly the size of a beer barrel. “Put a little of this in each ear: it’ll deaden the noise to bearable levels.”
“Thank God.” Jack scooped a handful of the goop from the dish and carefully plugged each ear.
“Better?” Em’s voice sounded nearly normal.
“About a million times.” He called, raising his voice. She didn’t seem to have trouble hearing him, but better safe than sorry.
“How do you feel?” She asked, eyes traveling up and down his body.
“Normal, which is weird.” Jack peeked at the lab floor a million miles below. What a time to develop a fear of heights! “Shouldn’t this kind of thing hurt? Not that I’m complaining.”
“It’s the beam effect. By using that instead of an injection I not only include your clothes, but the blood-brain barrier…”
Em delved into science babble and Jack lost interest. He had bigger things to worry about.
No pun intended, for once.
“Em, great as that is, can we talk about something else? Like how I’m going to get off the ship after I overhear everything?”
“I’ll be in a rowboat nearby.” She assured him.
“And how am I supposed to get to it? I swim like this and I’ll end up shark-chow.” He complained.
“More like guppy food.”
“Yes, yes, I see your point.” She frowned. “Maybe I can build you a small ship and smuggle that aboard as well.”
“Great, a new complex machine I know nothing about.” He glared. “I’ll just hide in Croque’s jacket pocket or something and hitch a lift when he leaves.”
“This isn’t a normal mission Jack. Winging it is not an option.”
“Just let me stick to what I do best.” Jack crossed his arms. He’d figure something out. He always did.
Em pursed her lips, but didn’t argue. “Alright. Let’s get prepared.”
She put her hand out palm up. He looked at it blankly.
“Well, come on.” She edged her palm closer to him.
“Oh! Sure.” Jack shifted his weight from foot to foot, not moving forwards. “Yeah.”
Em watched expectantly. No way out.
Jack walked forward, ignoring the spongy feel of the flesh beneath his boot heels. Em pressed the edge of her hand to her collarbone. A touch more stability. He let out a small, relieved breath. Em wasn’t going to let him get hurt. It would be fine.
If he could just get his heartbeat to slow down.
Jack studied the blueprint of the cabin. At this size, it matched his scale. “So, I’ll slip in with you, hide behind this chest, and when it’s over I’ll meet you on the port side of the ship.”
“Yes. If all else fails, I’ll swim up and we can go back to the rowboat together.” She placed a hand just off the port bow side of the drawing. “The water is calm this time of year, I’ll be able to swim and carry you without a problem.”
“Yippee.” He paced the tabletop, trying to ignore the quill pen that was longer than he was tall. “And then you’ll unshrink me.”
“Of course.” She put her hands on her hips. “Why do you assume I want to keep you this size?”
“Hey, I’ve known more than a few women that would pay good money to get their hands on me like this.” Jack retorted.
“Rest assured Mr. Stiles, I’m far more interested in you at your normal size.” She crossed her arms.
Jack cocked his head. “Missing the comfort of my strong manly arms?”
“I’m missing the time when I didn’t have to carry you about.” She reached down and tweezed the back of Jack’s coat between her thumb and forefinger for emphasis. Jack was ready with a witty retort, until his boots left the tabletop.
“Hey!” He yelped, snatching at the massive fingertips. “Put me down!”
“Alright.” She dropped him into her other hand. Jack landed on his rear, ruffled but unhurt. “No need to squirm. I’m not going to drop you.”
Jack straightened his coat, trying to find a scrap of dignity. “Yeah, that’s real reassuring. Just because I’m six inches tall doesn’t mean you can just toss me around.”
The humor melted off Em’s face. “I didn’t mean to belittle you.”
“It was a poor choice of words.” Em amended. “Really Jack, I didn’t mean to upset you. I am sorry.”
Jack nodded. “It’s okay. Just don’t cram me into a dollhouse and I’ll be fine.”
“Perish the thought.” She raised an eyebrow. “My dollhouse is an antique.”
Jack stared at her, open mouthed. Em broke into a smile after a few moments.
“Just my luck, now is when you learn to tell jokes.” He shook his head.
Em held her hand palm-up in front of his feet. “It’s almost time to meet the Governor.”
Jack stepped on, feeling better. Em wasn’t going to make fun of him or treat him like he was...well, less. He should have known better. She was a better friend and partner than that. He never should have doubted her.
“Before we leave, you’d better get into this.” Em held up a frilly handbag. “With any luck, I’ll be able to leave it onboard the ship; it’ll be the perfect cover to retrieve you!”
That English rat. He should have known better.
To be continued...
“You couldn’t just hide me in your bodice or one of those secret pockets in your skirt?”
“I need something visual to leave behind so I can retrieve it, and you.” Em held the bag under his feet with her free hand. “Please Jack; I’d feel a lot better knowing exactly where you’ll be when I reboard the ship. Assuming they don’t spot it before I leave and we resort to swimming.”
Jack stifled a groan. “Alright, fine. But no wisecrack, okay?”
“Of course not.” Em said as he jumped off her hand and into the bag. “No remarks about having you in the palm of my hand, for example.
“Or about how you’re an absolute doll to go through with it.”
She broke off, smirking. “‘Really Jack, this is much too serious for such lowbrow humor. Lives are at stake.”
“Exactly. So lets get this over with.” To his surprise the bottom of her bag has a sturdy floor.
“Of course. Just remember not to make a sound. I’ll leave the bag as close to the cabin as possible.”
Jack nodded, wishing he didn’t have to crane his neck for the conversation. “Okay, got it.”
“Good luck.” She snapped the purse closed, and he was cloaked in darkness. The bag was lined with silk and frills on the outside, but the inside was stiff and firm. She’d been planning for this adventure for a while.
Jack swallowed as the bag swung back and forth. Em was clearly trying to keep it still, but there was a fine line between his safety and her looking natural. If Commander Frou-Frou suspected something the whole mission would go belly up.
So he’d have to endure a little motion sickness. He’d been through worse.
Em walked briskly down the road to the harbor, bag clutched tightly in her hands. She’s never been scared of thieves before, but now every time someone came within arms length she had to resist flinching away. If anything happened to Jack the mission would be ruined.
She tried to pretend that was the only reason for her fear. Not the prospect of Jack being discovered or hurt or even killed at his current size. It wasn’t that at all that made her delve into weak puns and jibes. They were both trained agents. Jack had been in far worse danger before.
But never because of her. Never because she’s incapacitated him (ginger spray excluded). If anything happened to Jack she had no one to blame but herself. She could have showed Jack how to work the compressor. She could have risked his understanding it and undergone the transformation herself.
She could have watched him fumble to fix a minor problem and remain six inches high for God knew how long. That was the trouble with the device: the slightest thing could cause major issue.
She also could have told Jack that before he agreed to the plan.
She swallowed as the first of the tall sails came into sight. No time for ‘could haves’ now.
To be continued...
Jack pressed his ear to the side of the bag; he could make out muffled words and voices, but nothing of note. Em must have sound-proofed it a bit. The makeshift earplugs let him hear better than that.
The bag tilted violently and Jack slammed into the far wall. He stifled a cry of pain: this was no time to blow his cover!
“Emilia, what the hell are you doing?” He groaned.
“Please Governor, I really must insist on carrying my bag.” Em clutched at the purse. She felt a minute thud as Jack rattled around inside. “You see, I spent hours picking just the right accessory for this dress.”
“Ah ma cherie, but of course.” Croquet relinquished his grip on the bag. “Had I but considered the trials of the fairer sex, I would have known better than to take it!”
“Thank you.” She pressed the bag to her bodice, hoping Jack hadn’t been shaken too badly. She couldn’t exactly open it and find out. “When will Commander Fouquet make land?”
“He will be upon us within the hour.” Croquet replied. “We must hurry if we wish to meet his ship on time!”
“But of course.” Em allowed Croquet to take her arm and lead her to the docks.
The bag stopped bobbing. Jack braced a hand on the side and hunched over, trying not to vomit. What a pretty picture that would make.
He could make out Croquet’s voice and the loudening hubbub of the harbor. They were close now. He sat, back pressed against the wall.
Was it his imagination, or did the walls seem a lot closer than before?
Jack shook his head. Being six inches tall wasn’t good for his mind; he was dusting off all sorts of fears and phobias that hadn’t bothered him in years. He was a spy, for crying out loud. Darkness and heights and being stuck in small spaces was half the job!
“Remind me never to do this again.” He murmured. His voice was muffled by the cloth walls. Being alone was part of the job too. It shouldn’t bother him. He wasn’t even really alone: Em was right outside.
Jack wrapped his arms around himself and closed his eyes, trying to blot out the thoughts swirling in his brain. The mission was more important than a mental breakdown.
“Is that Commander Fouquet’s ship?” Em asked as a magnificent vessel pulled into the docks.
“Oui, that is La Belle Rose. A pretty flower, but watch for thorns!”
Em laughed along with Croquet, trying to mask her fear. Soon they’d be aboard and Jack would be out of her hands, doing God knew what to get the information they so desperately needed. She wouldn’t be able to save him if things went awry. He would be alone and functionally helpless.
Em shook herself. Jack was a trained agent. He hadn't trained for this, but he was able to look after himself. He would be fine.
She had to make herself believe that.
The purse settled on the floor with a resounding THUMP. Jack listened as the voices faded away: Em must have ditched the bag somewhere he could get out of, unseen.
“Good job, Em.” He struggled with the inside latch of the purse. It clicked, and he pushed through with one hand, shielding his eyes with the other. The onslaught of light after being in the dark would--
Not be an issue. Outside the bag was blackness.
“What the heck?” Jack stumbled forwards, hands out. In a few paces he smacked into a wooden wall. “Where’d ya leave me, Em?”
He felt along the wall, finding four successive corners and no way out. His heart started to pound. They’d made her leave her bag in a locked box!
Jack felt the boards, looking for slats. If it was a sea chest and not a safe or something he might be able to unlock it from the inside and escape. Otherwise it’d be back to the bag, and the target of the Commander’s attack would remain unknown.
Assuming it wasn’t airtight and he suffocated first.
“That’s right, stay positive.” He took a shallow breath.
To Jack’s relief, he soon found a slat wide enough to wedge his fingers into. He scaled the wall several feet ( ‘Inches.’ he reminded himself grimly), and touched a raised metal rectangle.
“Bingo!” He found a large hole in the surface. A keyhole! He could unlock this, and...and…
“And not lift the lid.” He stopped searching for the latch. Even if the chest was unlocked he couldn’t hope to lift the lid. It would be like lifting a roof.
Jack groaned and thumped his forehead on the wood. There had to be a way out of this. He was so close!
“Think. Think! Em wouldn’t have left me here unless there was a way out.” He squinted. There was a dim beam of light light coming from the center of the keyhole.
Hmm. It was a pretty big keyhole. Maybe he could get through it.
And if he got stuck, he’d be discovered when someone came to unlock it. Or crushed.
“Em, if I survive this, you owe me one.” He squirmed into the opening. The oily metal pinched him and he hissed in pain. “Make that a dozen.”
Emilia tried not to cast worried looks back at the chest they’d locked her purse in. Jack would find the way out.
Commander Fouquet smiled at her. He was neither warm nor genuine. The man was a bit taller than she, slender, and dressed crisply in military uniform. “Is everything satisfactory Mrs. Rothschild? I assure you, that chest will keep your valuables safe.”
“Oh yes, thank you Commander.” Em forced her sunniest smile. “I do so hate being kept from my things, but it is your ship.”
The man nodded, his smile dropping. “It is a sad time when even women must fall under suspicion.”
“Our Mrs. Rothschild has been a model citizen of Pulau-Pulau.” Croquet waved off the tension. “As well as one of its wealthiest inhabitants.”
Em tried not to twitch as the conversation devolved into trade talk and touring the ship. She had to be overcome with seasickness at just the right moment: long enough for Jack to extract himself and for her bag to be forgotten among the confusion. Half an hour at least.
‘No big deal’ as Jack might say.
Jack pulled himself through the keyhole, dropping onto the deck. It wasn’t a tall chest, thank God. He’d be able to climb back in, no problem.
‘Assuming I can get this oil off my fingers.’ He wiped his hands on his already-soaked trousers. He was coated with the stuff.
No time to worry about that now. He had to get his bearings and get to the cabin before Em left the ship. He looked up, trying to spot a porthole or a doorway or something from the blueprint he’d memorized.
None of which were located six inches from the floor.
To be continued...
Jack spun, trying to get his bearings. He hadn’t taken his size into account while planning; there were no landmarks he could navigate by six inches off the floor!
The room wasn’t anything special: a small closet, barely big enough for a normal-sized person to stand in. Jack paced the floor; it was at least half the floorspace of the lab to him.
This was so weird.
There were at least half a dozen identical closets in the blueprints. He might have been next to the soundproof cabin or clear across the ship. The door was closed, but he’d be able to squeeze under it.
“Okay, new plan.” Jack went to the door. “I have to figure out where I am, get out of here, get into the cabin, overhear the plan, get back into the chest, back into Em’s bag, and get back to my normal size.
The oil-slicked clothes were good for something; Jack squirmed under the door without any trouble. He got to his feet and his heart sank. He was at the bottom of a small flight of stairs. Something that would have taken a step or three at normal size; like this, it could be an hour-long climb.
“I don’t have that kind of time.” He looked back at the closed door. It wasn’t marked in any way that he could see. Granted, he couldn’t see much more than the bottom of the sky-high wooden plane.
“If this closet is only a few steps deep, I’m probably just off the main deck. The stairs to the cabin are just behind the wheel. I’ll have to climb up these, up the stairs to the wheel, and then all the way down to the cabin.” He reasoned. That was a lot of climbing up when he was already part way down. “Maybe there’s another way.”
All he needed was a knothole or a rathole and he could work his way through the walls to the cabin unseen. A ship like this, there was bound to be dozens of holes.
Also dozens of rats that made the holes, but he’d burn that bridge when he came to it.
A few moments of searching revealed a knee-high knothole (at least it hadn’t been made by a rat). It’d be a tight squeeze, even at his size.
“Figures, I’m still too big for this plan.” He grumbled, wriggling forward on his stomach. The interior of the hole was dark, but not as black as the inside of the chest. He could find his way further down to the cabin, or at least to a hallway. “That’s just my lu--.”
The last syllable turned into a yell as the floor beneath him vanished. He tumbled through the air, snatching at the darkness for purchase.
The tumble came to an abrupt halt; he’d landed in something rough but malleable.
Jack ran his hand over the surface, feeling the huge stitches. ‘Extra sailcloth.’
A sigh of relief wooofed out of him; a fall onto the floor would have killed him, easy. He was a little bruised, but otherwise alright.
“If this is extra sailcloth, I’m in the main hold.” He struggled to his feet, wobbling on the soft surface. The cabin would be right next door!
“Just my lu…” He trailed off, remembering what’d happened the last time he said ‘luck.’ “Um, Good.”
To be continued...
Em smiled blandly as the tour concluded. Soon they’d be ushering her from the ship. With any luck her handbag would be forgotten. What kind of man would pay mind to such a little thing? Not the governor, certainly.
“This has been most enlightening Commander Fouquet.” Croquet grinned. “I hope you will join Mrs. Rothschild, myself, and some of the elite of Pulau-Pulau for dinner tonight?”
“I am sorry, but we must be on our way as soon as the supplies are loaded.” Fouquet nodded at the gruff workmen bringing casks of fresh water aboard. “There’s a long journey ahead.”
Em’s heart quickened. Perhaps Commander Fouquet would slip something. Any clue would help.
“Oui, I understand. But you will still join us, Mrs. Rothschild?”
“But of course, monsieur Governor.” She bobbed her head.
“I suppose you will bring your attache, Mr. Stiles.” The Governor’s tone grew frosty.
“I couldn’t say: Jack is a little under the weather.” Em winced inwardly at her choice of words. At least Jack hadn’t been there to hear. “But I will extend the invitation.”
“Wonderful.” It was clear from Croquet’s expression it was anything but.
“I believe that concludes our tour.” Fouquet had led them to the gangplank, some distance away from the chest containing her bag. If things went just right--
“Your bag, Mrs. Rothschild.”
Em started as a soldier approached them, her bag held firmly in his grip. It was open; Jack had made his escape. “Oh...thank you Commander.”
“But of course.” Commander Fouquet echoed her words, face carefully blank. Already, his mind was elsewhere: probably on the meeting that was about to proceed. The meeting Jack was hopefully in place to overhear.
“Adieu, Mrs. Rothschild, until tonight.” Governor Croquet kissed her hand as one of the soldiers whisked her off the ship.
“Tonight? Oh, yes, the party.” Her heart hammered. If she didn’t attend the party and the attack was stopped she and Jack would fall under suspicion. But if she did go and ran at all late Jack could jump into the water and swim out, expecting to meet her rowboat and--
No. She would attend the party long enough to keep up appearances AND get to Jack in time. She’d fake an illness. She’d make herself sick in front of the guests if necessary. Jack would not be put into further danger because of her.
Jack reached the doorway of the hold, huffing. He’d ran across a space bigger than half of Pulau-Pulau. The unmarked doorway to the locked cabin loomed in the dark. There was no space between door and floor for him to squirm under; he’d have to wait until Fouquet arrived and scurry in behind the man.
An earth-shaking BOOM rocked Jack nearly off his feet. He stifled a cry as a massive military boot landed on the floor in front of him. It made Em seem positively petite.
Jack clutched the doorframe as two soldiers flanked the doorway. The crashing continued as Fouquet and Croquet walked downstairs. Neither man looked at the shadowed floor of the hold.
“I am so sorry for the inconvenience, Commander.” Croquet babbled as they descended. “But I cannot afford to offend Mrs. Rothschild. She is a very prominent--”
“I do not care about the politics of your worthless spit of land.” Fouquet snarled. “Let us discuss the orders and have done with it. I must leave as soon as the tide permits.”
Jack darted forwards as the door swung open. The crashes and thunder of the giants above him were not important; getting this information and getting the hell off the ship was. He dodged aside, not thinking about being crushed or knocked senseless by a stray bootlace, or one of a hundred other fates that could befall him.
The room was barely bigger than the closest he’d escaped. Just inside the doorway was a rude table and two battered stools. Jack swept behind the leg of one. He’d be safe from French eyes there.
Croquet sat on the stool, boot landing inches from Jack.
‘Maybe their eyes aren’t what I should worry about.’ He shifted back. It was fine. A few more minutes and hed be half done. ‘What could possibly go wrong now?’
Fouquet sat across from Croquet. “Your brother has set me on a mission of highest importance, Governor.”
“Yes, so your letter stated.” Croquet sniffed. “I hardly see what else you could need from me besides supplies, Commander.”
Fouquet leaned in, the stool squeaking under him. “The names of those you wish dead in the upcoming attack.”
Croquet jerked in shock. “What?”
“I have been sent to rid you of some of the prominent residents of Pulau-Pulau, Governor. Or rather, heroically defend them and tragically fail against the ‘American warship’ that is on the horizon.” Fouquet chuckled. “The perfect sacrifice to rally our troops into re-taking the land sold to that buffoon Jefferson.”
Jack’s mouth went dry. This couldn’t be right. Napoleon was a monster, but he wouldn’t sacrifice his own people!
“Surely this is uncalled for.” Croquet said, alarm in his voice. “My troops have rooted out many of the subversive elements on Pulau-Pulau.”
“I am not here to murder a man in a black mask or find a few spies.” Fouquet snarled. “I am here to martyr some of your useless nouveau riche. Mrs. Rothschild, for example.”
“No!” Croquet snapped, drowning Jack’s cry. “Mrs. Rothschild is a respected member of the community, and keeps our trade flowing. We need her alive.”
“A perfect sacrificial lamb.” Fouquet replied. “A beautiful face to keep the men fighting. And she will not die alone: many of your guests tonight will meet the same fate. French and savage alike.”
“You mean to attack my home?” Croquet asked, outraged.
“It is the perfect cover. The chosen lambs will fall, you will take possession of their wealth under the guise of some silly local ordinance, and France will have a new passion to fight for.”
“You’re mad monsieur.” Croquet got up. “My brother never would allow--”
“Your brother is a thousand leagues away!” Fouquet slammed his palms on the table. “What he does or doesn’t know about the piddling details of war is no concern of yours.”
“I will not allow this!” Croquet stepped towards the door. Jack balled a fist. Croqey was a spinless French fry, but even he was better than this guy.
There was a ringing CLANG of metal on bone. A massive body tumbled to the floor. Jack scurried backwards, knocking into another leg of the stool.
Croquet lay on the floor unconscious, wig askew. A drop of blood splattered the floor near his feet.
“A most unfortunate accident.” Fouquet tutted, opening the door. “Private, please take the governor back to his manor; if he tries to alert anyone of the attack, dispose of him.”
“Oui.” The soldier dragged Croquet away.
Jack trembled, rage and adrenaline coursing through him. Em. They were planning to kill Em. He’d murder the filthy bastards with his own hands. He’d rip the blue blood out of their veins.
Fouquet started for the door and Jack ran after. He would not be locked in here. He had to get out. He had to save Em (and the rest of the party, to a lesser extent. They were rich French fancy-pants, but they didn’t deserve to die at the hands of an insane commander). He had to stop this!
Jack darted out of the door as it swung closed. Fouquet locked it and walked upstairs without a look back.
His eyes crawled up the wooden cliffs. How was he supposed to save anyone if he was six inches tall?
To be continued...